October 25th, 2012

More WTFery Moments

I'm almost ready to write a review of _Personal Kanban_, but in the appendix, the author mentions the "Pomodoro Technique". I had not previously heard of this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

However, in a previous life as a programmer, I definitely worked this way: I'd get up about once every half hour, go get a cup of tea and do something minor before diving back in. I couldn't possibly sustain focus much longer than a half hour, and if I broke up the focus more frequently, I couldn't finish anything significant. And sandwiched around sets of these (more typically 3 than 4) were meals, stints of answering e-mail or someone's questions and so forth. On days where the interrupts came too fast, I didn't even try to do anything substantive; it was pointless.

The idea that this gets written up, studies, promulgated as A Technique etc. just leaves me all dizzy and disoriented, sort of like Allen's remark about people need to learn how to touch type.

_Personal Kanban_, Jim Benson, Tonianne DeMaria Barry (kindle)

I got this from the Kindle Owner Lending Library. I think it is the second thing I got that way (the other one was a trashy but fun vampire novella, and I had to click the link to return it so I could get this book). If I had not been able to get it through the library, I possibly would have bought it, and there's a small chance I'll eventually buy it anyway. Alternatively, I might have spent more time exploring this:

http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/

On the good side, it's a simple system with two basic principles (Visualize Your Work, Limit Your Work in Progress) and they are pretty good principles, altho I might have worded them a little differently (Attend to How You Do What You Do and Respect Your Limitations). The implementation is sticky note + dry erase marker + white board. The white board provides and environment for the sticky notes to drive around in, roughly: Backlog, Doing, Done, but with a Waiting (for some input) section ("The Pen") and potentially some other structure to handle moving tasks along that would otherwise take over more board real estate than they deserve ("swim lanes").

I won't actually use the sticky note etc. system, because it seems to exist to solve a problem I do not actually have and does not appear to solve (or at least promise to solve) the problem I am trying to address. That is: good tool, not for my job.

I've been spending time trying to understand two things about this book, GTD and organization/workflow/etc. books. (1) They really seem committed to this create-an-inventory-of-the-backlog exercise, which I find astonishingly unhelpful (actually, wildly dangerous and unproductive). (2) They seem to be creating solutions to give people "feelings", "tangible input" and a "sense of accomplishment". R. and I talked a little about this over lunch. I believe that the first element is serving a spiritual or health purpose that I don't really believe in (confront people with the reality they are in denial about/stoke a fever to burn out the illness type of thinking). I think the second is designed to solve a problem specific to people whose work is sufficiently abstract to never create feelings of "doneness" in the people doing them. When I was a programmer, there were projects I worked on that created this problem for me; one of the great things about working at Amazon was I stopped having that problem. The nature of my life now (blogging, genealogy, raising a couple special needs kids, maintaining a household full of deliciously craptastic stuff) generates plenty of "tangibility"; I don't need sticky notes for that.

In between when I wrote the above and when I came back to make sure it was okay before posting it, it occurred to me that Personal Kanban, or at least the sticky-note/white board incarnation of the visualization, could be thought of as a wash-the-dishes or do-the-laundry approach to workflow. If the kitchen is not completely clean, but especially if a meal has recently been prepared and consumed (or, worse, several without cleaning in between), there is a "backlog" of tasks (dishes and surfaces to be cleaned). The kitchen will only contain so many butts before the butts can no longer work, because they knock elbows and/or suffocate due to lack of adequate air. Also, there's only so many faucets/drains, which you'll probably need access to to clean anything, and the dishwasher(s) and/or sink only contain so many dishes at once. Thus, a need to limit work in progress. You can be waiting ("The Pen") for the dishwasher to finish its cycle. And when you are done, everything is (hopefully) put away in cupboards or drying in a dish rack or what have you.

The towels, mean time, would go to join the rest of the dirty clothes in the various hampers (backlog or, in GTD terms, collectors). You "pull" from the hampers (or piles of dirty clothes on floors, furniture, etc.), and then process the dirty items in the washer and dryer (doing and/or "The Pen", depending on whether you're actually involved or waiting for a cycle to finish). While things are turning in the machines, you're probably folding and putting away.

This is probably why I don't need sticky notes to make me feel like I accomplished anything. If I need sticky notes to make me feel like I accomplished something, and a house empty of things needing to be cleaned is not satisfying, I don't think sticky notes are going to help.

YMMV.

ETA: Comments disabled. There is/was an LJ bug on the new posting page that caused journal-wide comment settings to not be respected. This post in particular is attracting spam.